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From Bean to Bar: Exploring the Origins of Fair Trade Chocolate in Ghana
Ghana is the second largest producer of cacao in the world, behind Ivory Coast, which provided Semester at Sea students an excellent opportunity to see the process of chocolate production during their latest port of call on the Spring 2019 Voyage.
Students enrolled in World Interdependence – Current Global Issues spent their field class with Professor Donna LeFebvre of University of North Carolina learning about and questioning the impact of fair trade cacao production in Ghana. Although fair trade organizations heavily market the higher wages, better working conditions, and employee empowerment of their cacao, significant concerns have been raised about those claims.
Coming into the field class, students had questions about the true impact of fair trade principles and how they are practiced in Ghana. The day started with a presentation from Steven Ashia, the managing director of ABOCFA, a cacao farmers cooperative in Ghana that is known for producing high-quality cacao. It is the only fair trade and organic certified cooperative in Ghana. Employing 924 farmers across over 5,000 acres of cacao farms, ABOCFA places a premium on their product.
“What makes ABOCFA unique is our commitment to farmer empowerment, transparency in our process, strong and consistent buyers and finally our organic and fair trade certifications,” Ashia explained to students. “We are the only ones in Ghana with both of those designations.”
After several readings and documentaries decrying the human rights conditions of cacao workers in Ghana, especially regarding child labor violations, students were ready to question an expert in the field about the reality on the ground, as Riley Weaver from Missouri State University noted.
“Steven shed light to some things about the cacao industry but we were also asking him some pretty tough questions. Donna really encouraged us to ask about hard topics that might be uncomfortable but need to be asked and it was good to hear his answers.”
College of William and Mary student Aiden Vantol said, “I really enjoyed being able to talk to someone in the cacao industry. We’ve spent a lot of time in this class learning about this work so hearing his perspective was unique and insightful. I think it is cool to study an issue like cacao farming in-depth and then be able to go out in the field and having hands-on contact with it.”
Following Ashia’s presentation, students headed out to a cacao farm and processing facility to see how cacao is grown and prepared for export. A local farmer took students on a walk through his cacao farm and demonstrated how the cacao pods are harvested from the trees.
Voyager Daryl Mifsud from Earlham College loved the opportunity to try the beans straight off the tree. “At the farm, I was so surprised by the raw cacao fruit. I had never tasted it before. It has the consistency of a jackfruit and the taste of a lychee. It was so good. I just kept eating it!”
Students came away from the presentation and farm visit with a new appreciation for the complexity of Fair Trade and cacao production in a globalized market, understanding that fair trade principles may be hard to monitor and ensure in a country like Ghana.
“We all eat chocolate and if we’re being realistic, no one is going to go home after this and stop eating chocolate, but maybe we can stop eating unethical chocolate,” said Alex Curbelo from the University of Alabama. “Maybe that is where change starts, with one person making a more informed choice.”